The number of Australians using the illegal drug methamphetamine - including crystal methamphetamine or ice - has tripled over the past five years, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre estimates.
A new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has shown there are 268,000 regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia.
That number was about 90,000 just five years ago, according to one of the study's authors, Sarah Larney.
The research was based on the number of people seeking treatment in Australia, and when other factors were taken into account the data reflected a jump in the use of the drug, Ms Larney said.
The number of users in the 15 to 24 age group had also more than doubled from about 21,000 regular and dependent users five years ago to 59,000 users now.
"Our concern with the 15 to 24-year-olds is that there is a clear indication we are talking about new methamphetamine users," she said.
"The previous discussions have suggested that increasing use has been among existing users of the drug who are just using more.
"But this data suggests that there is a new, young population initiating methamphetamine use and developing regular and dependent use, and the harms associated with that."
It was the first time increases across different age groups had been quantified, Ms Larney said.
"Previously we have been relying on data from the household survey, which has been very good for telling us about broad drug use trends," she said
"But it doesn't really focus on regular and dependent and regular use, which is where the harms are occurring.
"[The data] certainly suggest that what we are seeing in the household survey is underestimating regular and dependent use."
Early intervention the key
One of the most important aspects to take away from the survey was the opportunities for early intervention to prevent the transition into regular and dependent drug use, Ms Larney said.
The Australian government pledged $300 million in December for a new strategy to fight what it was calling an "epidemic".
Drug rehabilitation services have also called for earlier intervention strategies to stop young people trying ice in the first place.
Matt Noffs from the New South Wales-based Ted Noffs Foundation said the study showed more work was needed.
"If we're going to prevent the kind of crisis that we saw with heroin, where we still have people who were teenagers in the '90s still dependent on heroin ... we need to intervene earlier and I don't think what we have now is ample," he said.
"We absolutely need more research into this and to better target our services.
"The kind of interventions we are talking about are coalface - residential programs, day programs.
"We need a suite of strategies to be working with young people earlier."
Mr Noffs also said broader issues such as youth unemployment and education needed to be part of the solution.